March 30, 2023
By Greg SelberClick here for select game gallery
In recent days he’s seen his team come close to realizing its potential, only to fall short of making the key plays at key times. Still, before Thursday’s Grudge Match matchup against eternal rival North, Ramon Arciba was cautiously optimistic.
“We’ve got five freshmen playing, so that should tell you a lot,” said the long-time EHS manager, as his Lady Bobcats warmed up for a game – originally scheduled for Tuesday – that had been postponed twice by weather. “We have some talent, but we are still looking to be more consistent. We’ll get the bases loaded, but not score, or we’ll make an error when we should have been out of the inning … but maybe tonight we can put it together.”
His counterpart, Richard Tressler of North, has been struggling with similar issues, and both nines came into the vital tilt at just 1-2 in District 31-6A.
“Most of these girls don’t have the background in softball that the girls used to have,” said Tressler, winner of more than 400 games in his fine career. “So we’ve got a lot of learning on the job going on. We’ve got 15 losses this season, and I can’t remember ever having that many; this has been a difficult season so far. But I still believe we’re capable of making the playoffs.”
The wild card for the latest iteration of the Grudge Match was on crutches Thursday, as North team leader Joliana Mancha is on the shelf with a broken fibula, suffered at the Seguin Tournament, before district began. The workhorse senior – who has won 46 games for North with 313 strikeouts in 418 innings, and hit .381 with 58 career RBI – has been reduced to assistant coach duties now, the second major injury casualty in town along with that of Vela cog Sarah Cortez. But Mancha was busy against EHS, offering encouragement and advice to her teammates, especially sophomore pitcher Kyla Rodriguez, a promising prospect who has moved onto the main stage in the wake of the Mancha injury.
The game itself turned out to be one-sided, as opposed to three of the last four preceding Matches, narrow-run affairs, when EHS scored early and often, rushing to an 8-0 lead after four frames. The solid pitching of freshman Eileen Reyna, who hurled her first complete game, kept the Lady Cougars at bay and allowed the Lady Bobcats to record a satisfying 10-4 victory which evened their record at 2-2 heading into Friday’s action at P-SJ-A. North dropped to 1-3 and faced a must-win the next night at Econ against an 0-4 Lady Jag team that has nonetheless been scrappy in 2023. That set of contests would end the first round of 31-6A action.
EHS junior Emily Rangel went 3 for 4 on the night with Reyna banging out two hits and senior Ella Ramirez driving in three runs. North got a home run and a two-run single from senior infielder Victoria Ramirez and scored four times in the last innings to buoy team spirits.
“I am very proud of these girls, proud of my freshman pitcher,” said Arciba, who has another Reyna, the unrelated Desirea, who played left field Thursday, as the other half of the rotation. “She did a good job mixing it up, she’s a drop ball pitcher and she was on tonight. Our defense had its best game all season at the right time and the bats woke up, too. These ladies didn’t just put it in the tank, they came out and played hard, and we hope this will carry over into the rest of district. This freshman group is growing up fast!”
PINS AND NEEDLES
The interesting aspect of the game, besides the obvious bragging rights at stake in the biannual clash, was statistical, as North and EHS came into the night with very similar numbers. Neither team ERA is stellar in 2023, with the Lady Coogs at 6.70, the Lady ‘Cats 6.39. EHS is hitting higher, .291 to .258, but both have allowed many more runs than they have scored. North is a little more patient at the plate, however with little pop (just 18 extra-base hits this season), and both pitching staffs have had trouble with control. The congruence promised a tight game, but it was clear from the get-go that the Lady Bobcats had more fire.
Right off the bat, Arciba’s club struck some blows on a windy evening and benefited from one of North’s four errors to get runners on early. Rangel smacked a single for a 1-0 lead and when Reyna walked to load the bases, Ramirez then drew a free pass for an RBI.
“Snap it, loosen up!” hollered Mancha from the North dugout, as Rodriguez, among the team’s most productive players this season (21 hits), regrouped. She’s strong and aggressive, reminding some of former North great Nat Rodriguez at times, and the latest Rodriguez was able to eventually retire the side, but not before EHS had jumped to a 3-0 advantage.
“There’s no defense for walks,” Tressler muttered during the inning, and the venerable coach admits that he’s had to temper his always high expectations this season. All he ever asks is for his teams to battle. After the Lady Coogs were shoddy in the field to begin, he reminded them that they had to make the routine plays if they wanted to be successful.
The wind was a factor as in the bottom of the first, EHS was on the bicycle to catch up to a few windblown pops. Slick senior shortstop Hailey Vega made one of the plays, freshman second baseman McKayla Campos the other, as the visitor made the routine plays to preserve a lead.
“Three runs, not enough, we need to score runs every inning,” Arciba chattered to his kids, and this is his fashion, constant reminders, pep talks on the fly, a steady stream of comments and exhortations. Arciba is always active on the diamond, pacing back and forth, slapping hands together, and driving his girls onward. Never a dull moment with any Arciba-Tressler encounter.
EHS responded to its mentor with a single run in the second, thanks to a leadoff walk and then a sacrifice bunt from Des Reyna.
“We love free 60s,” the Lady ‘Cats chirped after the walk, referring to the distance between softball bases. North prefers the more traditional “free bases” in its chant. A passed ball sent sophomore infielder Rebecca Torrez to third base and from there, senior slugger Shelby Celedon looped a Texas Leaguer into left center for the RBI. Leading the team in many categories this season, college signee Celedon came through in the clutch, as senior stars tend to do.
Arciba tutored Reyna between pitches in the second, telling her to stay loose, long and loose, adding a mantra: “Nice and relaxed out there, nice and relaxed … let’s go.”
The Lady Coogs got two on with no outs, as freshman 3B Caylee Ramirez beat out an infield single, and another similarity between the rivals: lots of young kids out there, plenty of freshmen who will one day be tried and true stalwarts. But North failed to bunt the runner over and Reyna came on, getting a key strikeout on a 3-2 count. Then she made the final assist from one knee after having fielded a dribbler, and the Lady Coogs had squandered a scoring chance.
Sixties or free bases, EHS got its third straight inning-starting walk in the third and jetted to two runs and a 6-0 lead. Courtesy runner Melanie Perez, a sophomore, was to steal two bases Thursday, the team six, and in the third, an infield error put North behind the eight-ball. The big blow of the frame was from Torrez, the ninth hitter in the lineup, who blasted a single, followed by a blooper from leadoff girl Des Reyna, a seeing-eye masterpiece that just eluded three Lady Coog fielders who had converged on the dying quail.
Sturdy and fiery freshman Catelynn “Gata” Castillo, who might be the best prospect in town this season, then hammered a deep drive to center field, only to see North’s Dani Pruneda – always steady and quick – run the ball down at the warning track to end the inning.
“Do not take the pedal off the metal,” Arciba yelled, as EHS seemed to now be assuming total control of the day. Reyna on the hill was surely in control and would yield only three hits to North through five innings. EHS meanwhile, slapped four singles in a row in the fourth, good for more runs and the 8-0 bulge. Rangel began the onslaught with a nice job of inside-out swinging, and soon, senior Karina Garcia stepped up to mash a two-run single. Tressler’s gang turned a double play to survive further damage, as freshman Andee Winnipeg rifled a toss to third after having made the putout at first from a throw by C. Ramirez. Sharp play there, and the Old Gold hopes for more of the same in the coming weeks.
As North looked to rally in its half of the fourth, Torrez of EHS was stingy, coming up with all three assists from third base; the Lady Coogs were making contact off the tall, imposing Reyna – Des is a lefty, Eileen a righty, and the future bodes well for both – but not to any powerful effect.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez of the Lady Coogs had settled in, and retired EHS without a run in the fifth, though Des Reyna again bunted well and Castillo once again clobbered one, far and high but into the glove of outfielder Shyomar Reyes of North.
“We cannot relax, keep it going!” Arciba commanded, and EHS went back to the rockpile. On the home side, Pruneda, the senior, reminded a teammate: “Sit back it, wait for it, and drive it,” and all game long, this sort of give and take from Lady Coogs showed that though they have started the league slog with less than they wanted, success-wise, the girls are not about to call it a day. At one point later, Mancha showed Rodriguez a brief phone video of her last inning, suggesting a few helpful hints. She may not be on the mound due to the crushing injury, but Mancha is 100 percent invested in the program she’s dedicated herself to for four outstanding seasons. Pride.
But Rangel, now at a healthy .385 with a team-high 10 walks after Thursday’s action, was on the mark again in the sixth with a two-strike base hit to start the inning. Part of North’s trouble in the Grudge Match was temporal, sequential, as in six of the seven innings, the Lady ‘Cats got the first batter on base. After Eileen Reyna smacked one off a fielder’s glove for a hit, Ramirez delivered a run-scoring hit, and it was 10-0.
As stated, V. Ramirez socked a homer in the North sixth and as the Lady Coogs roared in the dugout, Rodriguez reached safely and the home side eventually scored on an RBI grounder by Winnipeg. Tressler’s gang showed fight with three hits in the final inning, as one of the girls yelled, “This better be a long inning!”
A two-out double from catcher Ahnyka Munoz plunked inside the right field foul line, whereupon Pruneda (.364, 23 walks this season, just two K’s) powdered an opposite field rope to left. V. Ramirez, who has been picking it up big in district, narrowed the margin to 10-4 with a strike that raced down the third base line into left, plating two, but North could do no more as Reyna induced a grounder to second for the final out.
The best part of the evening, aside from all the youthful prospects and veteran starters on both sides, was the end, as the teams met in the middle of the diamond to shake hands. One by one, the Lady ‘Cats made their way to the end of the North phalanx, where Mancha waited, balancing on a crutch. Garcia and Celedon were among the approaching victors in red and blue, and they hugged their classmate and rival warmly, smiling and shaking their heads, to commiserate with the fallen warrior.
The softball was one thing, and both these clubs are in the hunt for a playoff spot, behind P-SJ-A and La Joya, who each look unassailable right now. The action was to continue a day hence, to restate. But the pathos of the final act, featuring Mancha and her friends from across town, all vets of the diamond wars for many seasons, was what it was all about in one sense.
Competition, determination, rivalry, adversity, friendship … and respect.
P.S. – MAJOR BOMBSHELL FRIDAY!!!!!!
While Econ has enjoyed its stretches of quality in various girls’ sports, including a playoff trip in volleyball and a district title in soccer this season, the softball program has always struggled to keep pace in town. In fact, heading into Friday’s bout at home against North, the Lady Jags were working against a streak of mammoth proportions.
In its last 50 games versus North and EHS dating back to 2008, Econ was winless, which is an incredible concept to ponder. The Lady Jags were 0-24 against the Lady Bobcats and 0-26 v. North, having scored just 40 runs in 50 games, allowing a massive 745. During the streak, those two rivals had shut the Orange out 30 times, but March 21 signaled a possible change.
That was the day that Coach Samantha Arciba locked horns with her father Ramon and was in a 6-6 tie before a ninth-inning rally from the Lady ‘Cats pushed EHS to the tape. Days on, and the Lady Jags found themselves on the short end of a wild 17-16 ball game at Mission, having surrendered a seemingly insurmountable 12-3 lead midway through.
This turn of events led to a bona fide shocker Friday, as after the close, excruciating call against EHS and a loss at La Joya March 28, the worm finally turned for the East Side. Cynics might have seen the Econ-North score on MaxPreps and imagined it to be a misprint.
It was not.
The Lady Jags banged their way to a smashing 16-2 result over the Lady Cougars, roaring out to a 7-0 lead after two innings and thoroughly dominating the night to finally claim a win against the Old School rivals. Now, last season Arciba’s group wasted a rebuilding Vela team for its first W over the Lady Sabes, but against EHS and North, the drought still obtained.
No more, as freshman Adrie Tagle went the distance on the mound and the offense exploded early, eventuating in a run-rule triumph after five frames.
Repeat: Econ run-ruled North. In softball. All things, no matter how fanciful, are now possible.
Evelyn Cano led the parade with a home run and six RBI, while Aissa Garcia (three hits, three runs), Angelinne De Hoyos-Aguirre (two hits) and Cassie Vega-Farias (three runs, two hits) helped pace the attack. The Lady Jags slammed five doubles, walked five times, and significantly did not strike out once. Tagle did not walk a batter Friday as Econ put to rest a long period of futility against its city mates, and as the first half of 31-6A came to a close, Arciba’s club was tied in the standings with North, at 1-4. EHS, which was decked by P-SJ-A Friday, a day after beating the Lady Coogs, was at 2-3.
With five games remaining, the playoff spots are up for grabs, so keep a calendar eye on April 11 (Econ at EHS) and April 21 (Econ at North), when the city rematches will take place amid heavy postseason implications.